February Student of the Month

ICES is very proud to introduce our February Student of the Month, Matilde Eleonori from Piacenza, Italy. “Mati” lives with the Hillary family in Oxford, Michigan and was nominated by both her host mother and her ICES Local Coordinator.  She was selected out of over 1600 students currently on program with ICES.

From the beginning, Mati was everything an exchange student is supposed to be: enthusiastic, adventuresome, communicative, and curious. She integrated beautifully into her host family, whom she adores. “I really feel at home here. I feel like I was one of the luckiest persons, one of the luckiest exchange students.”

family with funny Thanksgiving tshirtsMati and her host family decked out for Thanksgiving

The feeling is mutual. Host mom, Heather, says, “She has brought so much joy into our family! She loves our pets as if they were her own. She frequently plays with our 11-year old son, Ashton, and often runs interference between Ashton and his older brother, Owen, when they clash. Mati and Owen, who is also a student at Oxford High, love taking after-dinner trips to Meijer for toys and treats and other unnecessary odds and ends. She gets along great with our other two children as well: Liam who attends college on the other side of the state and Jordyn who just graduated with her Master’s degree. Mati also loves spending time with my mom, also known as Grandma Bonnie. They go shopping and to the movies and to live theater events. Mati and a friend even helped Grandma Bonnie decorate her Christmas tree and had a lot of fun doing so.”

kids posing on a giant chairMati with her host siblings during a trip to Ohio

The depth of Mati’s character and bravery became evident after a tragic shooting took place at her American high school. It’s an experience no one—especially an exchange student—wants to have, and it has created unique challenges for Mati. But she perseveres and finds ways to bring good from calamity.

To honor her friend, Madisyn, who was killed, Mati and fellow exchange students gave out Starbucks gift cards to strangers, using random acts of kindness to overcome evil. But Mati wanted to do more, so she put together an entire meal for a homeless man.

Family with matching Oxford Strong shirts

While she considered returning to Italy, Mati ultimately decided to continue with her exchange. “I really had all the support I need. I have the greatest host family I could ever ask for and they were by my side through all of it. And I had really good friends who were checking on me every day…and I felt like I needed to be here and not escape the problem.”

woman and teen in front of Christmas windowCelebrating Christmas is one of Mati's favorite experiences

Mati perseveres and continues to have the experiences she came here for. One of her favorites was a trip to Chicago with a large group of exchange students. “I really loved Chicago,” says Mati with a smile. “It’s such a magical city…especially at night. I love seeing the lights on the buildings.”

group of teens posing at dance

Homecoming with friends

Other favorites include Thanksgiving and Christmas, her first American football game, taking a trip “up North” with her host family, and hanging out with friends.

A swimmer all her life, Mati was thrilled to be part of the varsity swim team, and she loves her teammates, her coach, and the amazing chance to explore her potential.  Her coach often remarks about how sweet Mati is and how great it is to have her on the swim team.

female teen swimmersMati earned a varsity letter for her role on the swim team

One of the ways Mati shares her culture is by cooking authentic Italian food for her host family. She says, “I love cooking! I’m not always great at it, but I love doing it.” So far, she’s made pasta, pesto, and pizza, and she plans to dish them up some scrumptious lasagna soon.

teen girl cookingCooking up some Italian cuisine for her host family

Host mom, Heather, recounts how Mati shared Epiphany with the family. “She stuffed a sock full of treats for each member of the family from La Befana, the Christmas Witch, which is a popular Italian tradition.”

When asked if there’s one thing Mati wants people to know, her response is, “Life can be tough, but it’s important to keep on going--as my coach says, ‘Keep on swimming’. This experience gives you so much! You are able to get richer in ways you would never be able if you don’t step out of your comfort zone.”

As the Student of the Month, Mati will receive a $100 Visa gift card, an ICES t-shirt, and a letter of commendation from ICES President, John Crist.


Logo Big

Nominate Your Exchange Student!

Each month, ICES selects a student who embodies the spirit of youth exchange by being an awesome exchange student. Has your student done a beautiful job of integrating into their host family and community? Or found creative ways to share their culture? Or given back to the host community by volunteering? Maybe your student struggled at first but has worked hard to overcome challenges of their exchange. There are many ways ICES students excel, so if you feel your student is awesome, please nominate them and tell us why!

Send us your student's full name, home country, and host city/state along with specific reasons and examples of why they are awesome.

Send submissions to

Complete details available here.




Tags: Exchange Student, StudentoftheMonth, Youth Exchange

Subscribe to Our Blog Today!